Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine has been ongoing for nearly two months, and the scale of atrocities continues to grow. Recently, the newly liberated town of Bucha has shown the world the brutality of the Russian invasion and has led many to accuse Russia of dangerous war crimes.
On April 21, the Human Rights Watch released a report documenting Russian war crimes against Ukrainians in Bucha from March 4 to March 31. The Human Rights Watch had numerous researchers collect evidence in the days after the Russian retreat in early April.
Bucha, a suburb of the capital Kyiv, was the site of numerous Russian war crimes, although other cities and regions may also be similarly affected. Reports include gruesome executions of civilians on the streets, sometimes in the center of the town. These were described by the Human Rights Watch as summary executions, which is where someone is accused of a crime and is killed without any fair trial. Russian soldiers also threatened, and in some incidents followed through, with killing any civilians that went outside. Many victims also showed evidence of torture and bodies of victims were found all across the streets throughout the city. The official report also includes details of men, women, and children who were shot or attacked by Russian forces for no apparent reason.
In addition to these atrocities, there have been reports of Russian forces looting homes and businesses, taking valuables, appliances and jewelry, and this was evidenced by witnesses and Russian equipment left behind. As well as robbing civilian areas, Russian forces have also been destroying civilian property, including homes, some of which Russians had occupied. Civilians have reported the soldiers as being not just cruel, but also nervous, undisciplined and disorganized, perhaps because of the state of the war.
This evidence means that Russia violated many aspects of international law as well as many aspects of the Geneva Convention. According to the Human Rights Watch, “The laws of war prohibit willful and indiscriminate killing, torture, enforced disappearances, and inhumane treatment of captured combatants and civilians in custody. Pillage or looting is also prohibited. Anyone who orders or deliberately commits such acts, or aids and abets them, is responsible for war crimes. Commanders of forces who knew or had reason to know about such crimes but did not attempt to stop them or punish those responsible are criminally liable for war crimes as a matter of command responsibility.”
President Biden has previously called Putin a war criminal and reiterated those claims as he spoke to reporters, saying, “You may remember I got criticized for calling Putin a war criminal. Well, the truth of the matter, you saw what happened in Bucha. He is a war criminal.” The US is also continuing to provide support for Ukraine both through the war effort, but also diplomatically. According to CNN, after a visit to Kyiv meeting with President Volodymyr Zelensky, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced US diplomats would be returning to Ukraine. US diplomats previously left right before the invasion began in late February.